From One Rangefinder to Another

For the past month I’ve been working with the Fujifilm X-Pro1, which has been on loan to me. I shot all the Pop Up portraits with it, over 5,000 frames. It got a thorough testing and I got to know it quite well. I usually shoot on the Mamiya 7, a rangefinder, medium format film camera . For the Pop Up project, due to the large volume of work, I had to shoot digitally and as I already have a Fuji X100, was keen to try out her new big sister, the X-Pro 1- another rangefinder.

I got the X100 at the end of last year and the reason I choose it as my first ever digital camera, (yes, I have been clinging onto film for as long as possible), was because of it’s design. Not the beauty of it’s retro styling, but the usability. I am relatively new to digital capture and I am an impatient photographer. I want to be able to pick up a camera, make it do what I want, and not get lost in presets and programs. The dials on the X100 appealed to me as that’s what I’m used to, but it’s also how I want to use a camera, rather that having to delve into a menu to do the simplest task.

The transition from the X100 to the X-Pro1 was seamless. In my hand, the X-Pro1 feels just like one of my Nikons (F3 & FE). It is a similar size, and bulk, but lighter. It is a workhorse of a camera. Where as the X100 is super stylish – the X-Pro 1 is built for work. I love the X100 and while many use this camera professionally, I shoot portraits and need longer focal lengths than it’s 23mm fixed lens. The X-Pro1 came with 60mm and 35mm lenses and I found my perfect digital camera.

There are loads of technical reviews of this camera online, so here I am going to concentrate on what it’s like to use the camera, and why for me, it was perfect for this job. Firstly FujiFilm’s technologically advanced electronic viewfinder enables you to shoot a whole session, without the need to check the images on the camera’s LED screen. This may not sound like much of an advantage, but when you are shooting a portrait, it is a process, you keep photographing until you think you’ve captured what you were after. If you have to take your eye away from the camera, that interrupts the process, you loose your place and your connection with the sitter. The X-Pro gives you a choice between an optical viewfinder and an electronic viewfinder (EVF). I used the EVF for shooting portraits, as I could see the auto focus, it gives a preview of the exposure and most notably gives you playback of each frame, momentarily after each shot. The playback stays in the viewfinder for only about a second, but it’s enough to check that you’ve got the shot, so you can quickly move onto taking the next frame. For me photographing in the street, I need to be quick. This function enabled me to do a whole session with each person in just a few minutes, without once checking the image on the camera’s LED screen.

I could allow myself to completely concentrate on the process of chipping away at each shot until I managed to capture, what I was after in each person. I have done some research and I can’t find another camera series that allows playback in it’s viewfinder – I could be wrong, please let me know if you know better.

Secondly the X-Pro 1 is a rangefinder, just like my Mamiya 7. So what is so great about rangefinders? One word – optics. Because rangefinders don’t require a mirror between the lens and the film plane/sensor, the light has less distance to travel, resulting in a superior quality image. Rangefinder lens also work at optimum quality at wider apertures, unlike SLR lenses that need to be stopped down to gain optimum image quality. The X-Pro 1 has the shortest lens to sensor ratio of any camera on the market, this not only results in greater image quality but less display lag (in fact I didn’t notice any). The rangefinder also allows a reduction in camera vibrations – enabling hand holding at lower shutter speeds.

I am used to shooting with a rangefinder and I know the disadvantages too. My Mamiya 7 is not easy to focus in low light, there can be problems with parallax. However the X-Pro 1 removes the traditional disadvantages of using a rangefinder. Using the EVF on the X-Pro1 gives 100% of the lens view, so there is no problem with parallax. The auto focus, although not the fastest, was accurate and spot on for my needs.

I do have a few niggles though, the dials on the camera need to be lockable or more secure. It is too easy to knock them from their settings. I was unable to load the images from the X-Pro 1 into Aperture. I do hope there will be an update that will allow me to do this. I had to shoot the images as jpegs and would have been so much happier to get RAW files. At the time of shooting, to shoot in RAW on the X-Pro 1 required Silkypixs software, as I was shooting so many files I decided against going down this route. Lightbox now has an update to read RAW files from the X-Pro 1, so I’m hoping there will be one for Aperture too.

The X-Pro 1 is the latest of a long line of rangefinder cameras. It is in the company of some great cameras Nikon S-series, Leica M series, Mamiya 7, Contax, and the Hassleblad X-pan. It is a great modern classic camera and worthy of it’s place in the rangefinder family and I haven’t even started on the sensor’s new colour filter array or mentioned it’s megapixels..

  1. Kirsteen G Mackay – champion of the Rangefinder Camera!

  2. Roger Byrne said:

    Confused by your definition of the XPro1 (i don’t have one btw) being a Rangefinder, i thought RF was by definition because of the focussing method, not related to being mirrorless?

  3. David Stebbing said:

    Love your write up, BTW the old Leica Digilux 2 allows review in the viewfinder.

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